Drawing upon W.B. Gallie’s framework, which identified seven characteristics of essentially contested concepts, the paper unpacks and examines the variety of approaches to the conceptualisation of philanthropy. In this way, it explores how philanthropy is an essentially contested concept. I argue that greater scholarly attention to the essentially contested nature of the concept of philanthropy is salient to avoiding problems of conceptual ambiguity and miscommunication. What is more, recognition of the essentially contested nature of the concept of philanthropy is fundamental to ensuring that issues of conceptualisation do not hinder either progress in the theoretical development of the field or the resonance of studies of philanthropy beyond the academy.